Monday, March 30, 2020

Spring Come Anyway

[A fun March 30, 2020 trio at Norbury's Landing, Cape May, NJ: Forster's Tern, American Oystercatcher, and Laughing Gulls. My eBird list is below.]

Spring comes anyway. Notice that? Notice that. One day this April on a south wind and sunshine the Laughing Gulls will come across the Bay, dancing in the sky for the sheer delight of being back, of procreating, and making their daily flights from feasting on horseshoe crab eggs over to their colonies on the Atlantic side marshes of Cape May County. I love that day. Long for it.

My plan for the weekend was birds, as it usually is, specifically keeping an ear on the Northern Mockingbird in the neighborhood, who has been blowing up with songs. How many songs? Which are his favorites? Does he have a mate yet? Is he beating up the Blue Jays and robins?

Not to be. I'm seven+ days into a presumed positive case of the C-word. I swear, I'm going to make a fortune selling signs that, instead of "Beware of Dog" or "This Home Protected by Smith and Wesson" proclaim, "Covid-19 is HERE. Keep Out." I won't bore you, it really really sucked, and I worry for my dear ones and yours.

Still weak today, but staggered down to the bay, keeping the lungs moving, staying waaaayy far away from everybody.

[Boat-tailed Grackles are psychos IMHO, but I enjoy their antics. They're somewhat unusual on the bay side (here at Norbury's Landing), different status than from Rio Grande eastward. That's Rio Grande, Cape May County, not the TX-Mex one.]

[And my pussy willows are blooming. Spring comes anyway.]

Norbury's Landing, Cape May, New Jersey, US
Mar 30, 2020 12:23 PM - 1:40 PM
Protocol: Traveling
1.834 mile(s)
Checklist Comments:     Tide near high, overcast, 59 Degrees Fahrenheit, wind light and variable
27 species

Black Scoter  4
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)  4
Mourning Dove  6
American Oystercatcher  1
Dunlin  8
Laughing Gull  10
Forster's Tern  3
Red-bellied Woodpecker  3
Blue Jay  6
Fish Crow  8
Carolina Chickadee  1     Fee bee-bee fee bay
Carolina Wren  6
European Starling  20
Gray Catbird  1
Northern Mockingbird  2
American Robin  10
Cedar Waxwing  4
House Sparrow  40
House Finch  4
Dark-eyed Junco  6     Numbers are growing, migrants.
White-throated Sparrow  10
Song Sparrow  1
Red-winged Blackbird  25
Common Grackle  8
Boat-tailed Grackle  2     Unusual for site.
Yellow-rumped Warbler  8
Northern Cardinal  6

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Connecting while Isolating Through Birding

[Black Scoters on Delaware Bay, not taken last Sunday from my house (I live in a wooded neighborhood 0.5 miles from the Bay.), but I did hear them. You can find a recording of them here. The voice of what we all are feeling.]

Last weekend I proposed all us self-isolating birders spend Sunday birding at home, and share our results. Over 100 people responded, from some pretty far-flung places, as you will detect by some of the species named below.

The original Facebook post went like this: Housebound eBirder friends, let’s try something fun tomorrow, Sunday 3/22/20. Do a stay at home eBird list. Not saying you can’t or shouldn’t wander your yard, but to level the playing field, all species must be recorded with your feet indoors or on attached porch/deck. Open the windows and have at it, share your total on FB, and one or two favorites, and roughly where you are. 

I heard back from many people in many places in the US and beyond. Great stuff, though most poignant perhaps were a few people in highly urbanized areas who pretty much can see no birds from home and fear the closing of parks and suffer limited travel. It’ll take me a while to sum it up, if you birded from home Sunday please share your list or highlights and email me (email at right side of this page), maybe we’ll have a tradition. My own list follows (how did I miss Tufted Titmouse ?!😉), then the responses of at least some of the other folks who "played:"
Middle Township, 15 Park Avenue
Mar 22, 2020
3:04 AM
1,040 Minutes
All birds reported? Yes
Comments: Self quarantined eBirding
Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 2.0.3 Build 2.0.104
1 American Black Duck
2 Surf Scoter -- By voice, on bay. Honked “Uk uk” , do not hear often where wintering.
3 Black Scoter -- Bird one, calling on bay 3:04a
6 Long-tailed Duck -- Number coarse estimate, heard only vocalizing on bay.
2 Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon)
4 Mourning Dove
3 Clapper Rail
4 Northern Gannet -- Heard only, coarse est., kakking out on bay, needed cupped hands for these.
1 Bald Eagle
1 Great Horned Owl
4 Red-bellied Woodpecker
10 Blue Jay
6 Fish Crow
1 Carolina Chickadee
4 Carolina Wren
18 European Starling
1 Northern Mockingbird
15 American Robin
20 House Sparrow
4 House Finch
16 White-throated Sparrow
50 Red-winged Blackbird
1 Brown-headed Cowbird
1 Rusty Blackbird -- Flyover.
1010 Common Grackle -- Careful estimate.
2 Yellow-rumped Warbler
6 Northern Cardinal
1 Dickcissel -- Heard electric shaver “bzzzt” in flight. Rare, have heard that one has been wintering locally, about 5th record for site since 2007.
Number of Taxa: 28

What fun birds to be able to see from your very own home!!


Hello from West Orange, NJ:

6 robins, 2 cardinals, 4 blue jays, 6 house sparrows, 10 white throated sparrows, 2 chicadees, 4 american crows, 1 red bellied woodpecker, 4 mourning doves, 4 turkey vultures, 2 carolina wrens, 1 red tailed hawk


Got my usual city yard denizens...House Sparrows and Finches, Goldfinches, Starlings, Grackles, Mourning Doves, Juncos and Cardinals...haven't actually put numbers to them yet. But the 1st of season female Cardinal finally answered the boys!


Pileated at my suet tree and saw two Phoebes


Two Bald Eagles out back of my house. Cell phone photo from my deck .Del Haven


All my normal visitors this morning first things, sparrows, finches, doves, cardinal 4 pairs, robins - 3 pairs; blue jays; starlings and grackles, juncos are at back feeder now with the titmouse and wrens. a couple of red wings popping in and out. havent seen any hawks or falcons in a week or so.


Hello from West Orange, NJ:

6 robins, 2 cardinals, 4 blue jays, 6 house sparrows, 10 white throated sparrows, 2 chicadees, 4 american crows, 1 red bellied woodpecker, 4 mourning doves, 4 turkey vultures, 2 carolina wrens, 1 red tailed hawk


My first bird was Great Horned Owl at 1:46 am. Last was our Harris’s Sparrow!


In response to Don Freiday's stay-at-home eBird list challenge, I started my morning on our side porch, sipping coffee and watching birds. The weather was perfect, and I added four first-of-the-year species to our yard list: Scott's Oriole, Western Tanager, Vermilion Flycatcher, and Rufous/Allen's Hummingbird (a female who declined to fan her tail feathers for me 🙄).


On the down side, it reminded me just how much I need to send my Brunton Epochs in for repair. The focus between the barrels no longer balances, even with the diopter ring all the way to one side. Squinting through one eye at a time gave me a headache. 😖


Had a late breakfast (9:00-ish) on the porch and had most of the “usuals” (HOFI, AMRO, NOCA, CARW, etc.). We were surprised by low flyover of three vocalizing Tundra Swans!
My first of the day was a White-crowned Sparrow singing outside the bedroom window as I was waking up, but when I opened the living room blinds I was treated to the FOY Scott's Oriole for our yard!


Had all my usuals at the feeders but thrilled to have a mature Bald Eagle stop briefly before heading to the river.


oops just saw this but we did have 2 really good birds here...naked eye too but we used bins later for better enjoyment.......1st Golden-cheeked warbler of the year in the driveway along with our recent resident (from last year) Hutton's Vireo...."chu-weeping " away!!


Only managed 19 from open windows and some designated feeder watching. Only surprise was how little feeder activity there was not of the day, including no chickadees or titmice ☹️


Have 5 so far including the Cooper’s Hawk that just scared everything away. Awesome to see how they maneuver through the trees. Indiana, USA


So Don Freiday, I’m far, far away, but maybe eBird brings me closer to home. Thanks for the idea! Here’s my list:

Tucson home

Mar 22, 2020

12:45 PM


74 Minutes

All birds reported? Yes

Comments: Submitted from eBird for iOS, version 2.0.10 Build 2.0.113

1 White-winged Dove

3 Mourning Dove

1 Anna's Hummingbird

1 Broad-billed Hummingbird

1 Red-tailed Hawk -- Missing a LOT of feathers on wings and tail

1 Gila Woodpecker

1 Vermilion Flycatcher

3 Common Raven

1 Verdin

1 Cactus Wren

8 House Sparrow

3 House Finch

2 Lesser Goldfinch

1 White-crowned Sparrow

1 Abert's Towhee

1 Lucy's Warbler

Number of Taxa: 16


I am trying to resign myself to missing the migration. Whereas I can still get out to the city parks, I think their closure may be imminent. I am lucky that I have a car and am hopeful that I’ll be allowed to use it to leave the city to bird. But maybe not. Meanwhile, I’ve embarked on a new project to paint the migration. So far, Pine Warbler and Phoebe. Today, Golden-crowned Kinglet and maybe Fox Sparrow.


From inside overlooking the Delaware Bay - Northern Gannets feeding and swooping, Black Scoter, several varieties of gulls, Bald Eagle, Peeps flying in groups towards the Point, and some ducks. Backyard had my usual yard birds -Dark-eyed Juncos, Song Sparrows, American Robins, Mourning Doves, House Finches, Blue Jays, Northern Cardinals, Grackles, Eastern Starlings, Carolina Wren, Chickadees.


We had a male and female grackle (great-tailed) looking suggestively at each other in the backyard yesterday. I’m jealous for your broadbilled hummer.


We're also in a male mockingbird's territory (he goes on and on as soon as it’s night right outside our kitchen door) and have Costas and Annas fighting over the feeders (we have many small ones hanging from the eaves). I've also seen Phainopeplas and a mates pair of cardinals in the back yard, especially when the feeders are filled.


At the moment we are beset by an invasion of barbarian round-tailed ground squirrels so all seed is put up as I roam the yard filling in holes as fast as they are being dug. Almost time for hot pitch!


Oh and we're in the hunting territory of a Cooper’s hawk by day and a mated pair of Great Horned Owls at night.


I think the reason we're so good with birds is the cemetery on the other side of the back alley and Fort Lowell park four blocks north of us.


Waimea (Kamuela), Hawai'i Island --

Carmel Valley, CA --

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coronaeducation, Episode 2: The Masai Girls

"Did I ever tell you about the two Masai girls?"

This was me, trying again to impart what wisdom I think might be useful to my adult son.
I said, "We were on safari, on the lip of the Great Rift Valley, looking down at a river far below. God it felt good to be on our feet, after days of being stuck in a Land Cruiser punctuated by nights in posh lodges. Oh how we had suffered, right? Just to walk, albeit with guards fore and aft with automatic weapons. There were things around that could eat us.
"Two Masai girls, barefoot but dressed in bright wraps, trundled through the thornscrub up the steep hill out of the river valley, sisters I was guessing. Each carried a spackle bucket full of river water. I'd guess they were ages 7 and 4, the younger weighed maybe 35 pounds. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. You do the math."
If you wonder what this has to do with the way Americans are responding to the coronavirus, the lion has something to say.

 ["...Destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation. . ." - The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication. Eventually, Coronaeducation (© Donald Peter Freiday) will find its way to a platform other than The Freiday Bird Blog. For now, if it's birds and nature that are what you need, I'm with you, and so if that's the case, skip down a blog or more or check "Time Machine" to the right for some of that. With Coronaeducation, it is not my intent to play epidemiologist, scientist, or politician, except when my brand of training and teaching lends itself to that arena. Mainly, this pandemic has set me to wondering, about humans, family, friends, life, the future . . .]

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Coronaeducation Episode 1: Now For Something Completely Different

["...Destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation. . ." - The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Californication.

Eventually, Coronaeducation (by Donald Peter Freiday) will find its way to a platform other than The Freiday Bird Blog. For now, if it's birds and nature that are what you need, I'm with you, and so if that's the case, skip down a blog or more or check "Time Machine to the right for some of that. With coronaeducation, it is not my intent to play epidemiologist, scientist, or politician, except when my brand of training and teaching lends itself to that arena. Mainly, this pandemic has set me to thinking, about humans, friends, life, the future . . .]

A lot of people are not scientists, which is fine. We need all kinds of people thinking all kinds of ways.  A lot of scientists have come around to thinking that part of their role is sharing what they know in ways understandable to others, NOT because others are not intelligent, but because others may lack a scientist's training and mindset. I'd love to play the cello or paint birds, but I would need lots of help from someone who knew how to do those things to have a chance at it. When I teach about birds or anything else, I try to think about what the student knows, how they think, that they may know or think differently.

So how might a scientist approach talking about a pandemic? Well, you could throw out a fancypants graph like this:

...and say, it's not like the red one, it's like the blue or green one. Three weeks ago, I saw a graph of Covid-19 cases outside of China, and , well, it looked like the green one. Now look at cases as of March 22, 2020:

No photo description available.
Or, maybe try this: coronavirus is like a secret you have, and you tell two friends, and then they each tell two friends, and so on. Everybody's heard this bit and I think understands it. And then maybe you could say, "What if your two friends each tell 10 friends, and then they each tell 10 friends, what's that going to look like?" It's going to look like everyone in America, indeed the world, is going to know your secret. So, don't tell anybody anything you don't want the world to know, nor give anybody a disease you don't want the world to get...

Friday, March 20, 2020

Fri-D: Ducks are Different: Finishing Up Bird Age-speak

[Adult breeding Mallards. This is also adult basic, because why should we make it easy?]

Last Fri-D and the one before I wrote about bird ages. Let's finish this off with the ducks, just pictures and captions. all photos are from Cape May County, NJ.

[Adult breeding Mallards, um, breeding. Most ducks pair on the wintering grounds, the male (drake is also correct) then stays with the female (hen is also correct), guarding her from other males until she is on eggs. Once that happens, he's oughtta there. Females then do all the incubating and raise the babies, which is why in any given fall flock of ducks, there will be more males. sex ratio is equal at birth, but females are more vulnerable. Do not apply any of this to human behavior.]

[Adult female Mallard with her brood of fledglings. Also called ducklings. Baby ducks are precocious; they hatch, dry off, and leave the nest right away with mom. Most can find their own food, but need to learn about life from mom. And they can't fly for a bit.]

[Male eclipse plumage Mallard. Also alternate plumage. Eclipse plumage males look a lot like females, but note among other things this guy's bill color. Ducks famously drop all their flight feathers at once, and are incapable of flight until the new ones grow in. It's a good idea to be camouflaged if you can't fly, which is why the female-like eclipse plumage evolved. Total eclipse of the duck.]

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Thoughtful Thursday: The Tree of Liberty

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure."
- Thomas Jefferson

[Not saying Jefferson was  perfect, but a progressively thinking leader is badly needed now.]

Friday, March 13, 2020

Fri-D: Of Gulls and Bird Age-speak

[This is an egg. I dare anyone to dispute me. A Herring Gull egg, to be precise. It is not a bird, just ask the rule-makers at ABA. Eggs do not count as birds.]

Last Fri-D I wrote about bird ages. You might want to look at that one first before wandering through the images below. By the way, the chart at the bottom of that post needs a big screen or at least a landscape view on phone or tablet to see it all.

Large gulls are among those birds that take more than two years to reach full adult plumage. Eagles are another familiar example of taking a long time to become adult. Adult means capable of breeding; for virtually all birds, they are as big as they will ever be when they first can fly, but often look different than adults.

I think this matters, both for i.d. and for ecology. I got grouchy with my dear friend Pete Dunne when he used words like "immature" to refer to non-adult gulls in his gull book with Kevin Karlson, which he asked me to give a once-over before submission. As usual,  he pretty much ignored me.

Passing over i.d., what's the bit with ecology? Well, what are the two most common plumages you see in large gulls? Answer; first year/first winter and adult. Progressively less common are second years and third years. Why is that? Because birds start dying the minute they hatch, but adults stay in adult plumage until they die, sometimes after 10-20 years or more. So third year is the rarest plumage. This is why I think it is important for birders to age birds as carefully as they can. For example, what if someone looked at the ages of every American Kestrel, in the field or banded? We would be able to know whether the ratio of adults to first years was changing, and where, which would then tell us if the AMKE decline is about adults dying or about lack of nest success, or both, if we compared ratios over time. Presumably this information is "out there," but has it been analyzed? Maybe it has and I never heard about it.

Anyhow, here's how large gulls grow up in pictures. The baby things are from a gull colony somewhere near Avalon, Cape May County, NJ; the flight shots are from Gloucester, MA.

[Nestling Herring Gull. Downy, and still in the nest.]

[Fledgling Herring Gull, out of the nest, can't fly, very dependent on mom and dad.]

[Juvenile Herring Gull, with mom and dad in the background. Also first cycle, also hatch year. Male gulls are bigger than females, the reverse is true in birds of prey. This one's flight feathers are still growing in, and it could barely get off the ground.]

[First winter Herring Gull. also first cycle, also SY (second year) because it's February, after January 1 , which is when banders give birds their birthdays.]

[Second winter Herring Gull, also second cycle, also TY. In large (4-year) gulls, the second-years develop adult back color, helpful e.g. in picking a Lesser black-backed Gull out of a Herring Gull flock.]

[Third winter Herring Gull, also third cycle, also TY. In four year gulls, third years are very adult -like, but with different wingtip patterns and usually a tail band.]

[Adult winter Herring Gull, also fourth or later cycle, also fourth or later year (ATY, or after third year). Someone's going to get on me because this bird doesn't have head streaks so technically it's an adult breeding; gulls molt to breeding plumage early, this is from February.]

Thursday, March 12, 2020

 Image result for Coronavirus

 "Come you back to Mandalay,
    Where the old Flotilla lay:
    Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the flyin'-fishes play,
    An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!"
    - Rudyard Kipling

Friday, March 6, 2020

Fri-D: How to Talk About Age in Birds

[Yellow-rumped Warbler, Cape May, NJ October 21, 2012. Click to enlarge all photos. First winter. Also correct: first fall, first basic, first cycle, hatch year (HY), formative, and immature.]

Roger Tory Peterson once said something to the effect of "... it is important to know the names of birds because we are then able to speak properly about them." Amen, and this goes for the names of bird plumages and bird ages. At the end of this post you will find a chart of the ways one might speak properly about bird plumages and ages. I believe this is often made more complicated than it needs to be, in part because each field guide makes up its own rules. I like and generally follow what the Sibley guides do; I particularly like that David also tells you what months you generally see a given plumage. Let's start with a concrete example: the oh-so-familiar Yellow-rumped Warbler.

[This would be a picture of a juvenile Yellow-rumped Warbler, except I don't have one, because like other songbirds Yellow-rumped Warblers dump their juvenal plumage early (the plumage is juvenal, the bird is a juvenile, one more unnecessary complication). Songbirds molt into their first winter plumage rapidly and often are secretive while they're doing it. Since Yellow-rumpeds don't breed where I do most of my birding, other than a precious few in Sussex and Passaic Counties, NJ, you'll have to look juvie Yellow-rumped up. By the way, when I say "dump," I mean molt, i.e. drop feathers and replace them with new ones. The only other way birds can change the appearance of their feathers (other than accidental staining) is through wear, which some do on purpose, like European Starlings or meadowlarks.]

[First winter Yellow-rumped Warbler, November in Cape May. Since it's fall, you can call it first fall if you want, but it's the same feathers they'll have until spring. Sometimes I don't feel sure whether a given bird is a first winter or drab adult winter.]

[Adult winter Yellow-rumped Warbler. Brighter yellow splotches below, more cleanly marked than first winter, I see many I'm not really sure of the age on.]

[Adult breeding Yellow-rumped Warbler. April, Cape May. This plumage is attained by a head and body molt in late winter and spring, we'll be seeing these in a few weeks. As noted in the chart below, in the field it's often impossible to tell first breeding/summer from adult breeding in the field. I actually think this is a first breeding, because the tail feathers look more pointed than truncated and the flight feathers look a little too worn, but this is tricky even in the hand.]

Next Fri-D we'll have some fun with gulls . . .

Plumage Terms for Birds
© Donald Peter Freiday
Don’s Favorite Term
Approximate Age (varies greatly by species; big birds generally take longer)
Nestling (still in the nest, may be naked, downy, partially feathered, or fully feathered)
0-14 weeks
1st cycle once it’s got some real feathers
HY (Hatch Year)
Fledgling (can fly, wears normal feathers, cared for by parents)
2-18 weeks
1st cycle
Juvenile (fully feathered, usually independent)
2 weeks- 4 ½  months
1st cycle
1st winter (you can say 1st fall if it’s fall, but it’s the same feathers as it will have in winter)
2 weeks – 9 months
1st basic
1st cycle
Formative plumage;
After January 1,
AHY (After HY) or SY (Second Year) if you can tell
1st summer or, for many, adult breeding (1st summers often cannot be told from adults in the field, usually can tell in the hand by feather wear, molt limits, feather shape)
4-12 months
1st alternate
1st cycle
Adult winter
12-19 months
Definitive basic
2nd cycle
SY or AHY;
after January 1, TY (3rd year) if you can tell, or ASY or AHY
Adult breeding
Repeat adult plumages in future,
19-24 months
Definitive alternate
2nd cycle
TY or ASY or AHY